It’s been 2 days since I bought a tub of ice-cream and I haven’t eaten it

I should explain. Ice-cream is my ultimate binge food. Not in the way that movies portray it, that cliche where the skinny actress turns to it after a breakup. No, for me it was much more than that. It was capable of consuming my every waking thought. On a bad day, I would plan my trip to the shop to buy it on my way home from work before I even left the house. It was my friend, my enemy, my very best way of numbing the emotions I didn’t want to feel.

Therapy didn’t change this, though it helped me massively to understand why I binged, and to learn to sit with emotions rather than being scared of them. And nearly two years into my intuitive eating journey, ice-cream is one of the few foods I still struggle with. I crave it less often, but when I want and buy it, I will eat at least half within a couple of hours.

But today, I realised I bought a tub of ice-cream two days ago and hadn’t thought about it since. It’s sitting in the freezer unopened. Words cannot express how momentous that is. I’m thinking about ice-cream now because I want to eat some, not because I’m upset, or angry, or bored, or overwhelmed. So I will eat some, and enjoy the experience without guilt.

But I couldn’t let this moment pass without marking it in some way, because it shows just how far I’ve come. It’s a sign that full recovery is truly possible, and that I am getting there.

And now I’m off to enjoy that ice-cream.

Have a wonderful day, whatever you are doing, and don’t forget to enjoy those small victories along the way x

Stigma and Time to Change

This blog was written for a local council to mark Time to Talk Day 2021.

A 2015 parliament paper* describes Mental Health stigma using Time to Change’s definition: “the set of negative attitudes, pre-judgements, prejudices and behaviour that can make it harder for inviduals with mental health problems to live a normal life”.

Time To Change has been challenging Mental Health stigma since 2007 on a national level, and more recently on a local level through its community hubs. I am a “champion”, or volunteer, with the Northamptonshire Time to Change Hub. Champions have lived experience of mental illness. My experience goes back to childhood, although my first diagnosis, depression, was at 21. It wasn’t something I shared. No-one did back then.

At the time that parliament paper was published in 2015, I was receiving treatment for depression, anxiety and Binge Eating Disorder. I was also rebuilding my life after literally losing everything. The reasons for this were complex, but mental health stigma and discrimination played a part, even though I did my best to assert my rights.

I had started a new job, and was open about my mental ill-health for the first time. To a point. Because anxiety attacks are difficult to hide. I was wary and careful to notice how my new colleagues responded. Most people accepted me without judgement, and it was such a relief! My new employer also allowed me the space and time to go through therapy and group work with the Eating Disorders Service, and phase off my anti-depressants when I was ready.

It hasn’t all been perfect, thoughtless comments are still commonplace. Particularly around Binge Eating Disorder, which most seem to think is about greed and lack of willpower. I have received so much diet advice over the years, even from healthcare professionals who should know better. But I’ll save that for Eating Disorders Week in March…

I first heard about Time to Change and Time to Talk Day in 2017. The message struck a chord, and I decided to write an email to my team, thanking them for their support and acceptance. I remember being so scared as I pressed “send”, then shedding more than a few tears at the kind responses I received. At this point I realised the power of sharing my story, not just for others, but for myself. My aim had been to help prevent other people from going through what I had, and yet the more open I was, the more my own self-confidence grew.

It is now 4 years since I sent that email. This Time to Talk Day I’m in recovery and talking to strangers online. It has become second nature for me to challenge mental health stigma whenever and wherever I see it. I am learning that I am enough, that I don’t have to hide who I really am. I am finding my voice. I have started to write. I have a sense of belonging I never had before. Yes, I have helped others by being a part of the Northamptonshire Time to Change Hub, but it has given me so much in return.


Time to Talk Day 2021: The Power of Small

This year, the theme of time to talk day is the power of small. People underestimate the small things, but they mean so much, and they can lead to something very big indeed.

For me, it really did all start with those small conversations. Now and then, when a friend or colleague asked how I was, I would tell the truth. Just something small like “I’m having a bad day today.” I didn’t need to say any more than that, I often didn’t want to say more, it would have been too overwhelming. But I’d acknowledged the elephant in the room, or the black dog if you will. I’d said nothing, but somehow everything. I was openly acknowledging that I was mentally unwell, that I wasn’t OK, and that that, in itself, was OK.

Then I heard about Time to Change, and the next Time to Talk Day I wrote an email thanking those friends and colleagues for being there, for understanding that I was more than my mental illness. It might have seemed small, but it was massive. I was so scared. And very anxious. But I will never regret pressing “send”.

And this Time to Talk Day? The power of small is well and truly showing itself. Time to Change Northamptonshire has been running for 18 months now. Plucking up the courage to attend my first meeting was another small thing I’ll never regret. Being around people who get it. The support, the encouragement, the jokes and banter! One small step at a time, that email has turned into events like tonight’s. I’ll be sitting there speaking to a bunch of strangers about personal stuff! It’s turned into poems. I’ve even started a blog! It’s like I’m some sort of stigma fighting superhero!

Well maybe not quite. But there’s one thing that can’t be denied: that small decision to become a Time to Change Champion has changed me forever. That sad, anxious women I used to be is long gone. Well mostly. As long as she doesn’t have to see the dentist during a global pandemic! Yes, there were tears! And the closest thing to a panic attack I’ve had in years. But I made it through.

And when there’s no dentist in sight, there’s a new confidence. The sort of confidence that the old, ill me could never have dreamed of. A confidence borne from being among people who support me, believe in me, and encourage me to find that inner voice I never knew was there. That is what being a champion means to me, and that is the power of small.

It’s OK to feel overwhelmed

I have a big week coming up. It’s Time to Talk Day on Thursday 4th February. My poem “First Steps” is being published. I’m speaking at an online event. A blog I wrote is being published locally.

I should be excited, right?

No, I’m overwhelmed and anxious. I’ve managed to self-sabotage by over-exercising, triggering my chronic pain and leaving myself barely able to move. This means I can’t shower, wash my hair, and take a selfie to accompany said blog.

Recovery is hard work. Taking selfies is a massive challenge for someone who has spent their life avoiding cameras because they hated the way they look.

I’ll get there. The same way I have so far. One tentative step at a time. Because anything more is too overwhelming. Especially when the world is a scary and disconcerting place right now.

Be kind to yourselves this February. And remember, it’s OK to feel overwhelmed.

Fat Girl Thin Then Fat Again

There’s no point denying it. I am fat, obese, curvy, plus size, or however else you want to phrase it. I have used disordered eating as a way to control my emotions and deal with stuff for nearly 40 years. For nearly 30 of those I was told by medical professionals to go on a diet. And I did try. But I had undiagnosed binge eating disorder. Although let’s be fair, binge eating disorder wasn’t even a diagnosis when I developed it. For another 5 of those years I was praised for losing weight. Most of those years I purged.

Now’s the time for all those comments from internet trolls about how I would be so much healthier if I lost a few stone, right?

About 5 years ago, a GP referred me to the Eating Disorders Team after I lost those few stone while on SSRIs. I was inundated with compliments about how well I looked at the time. Yes, I was so well I needed anti-depressants to function, but the weight loss seemed so much more important to everyone, including me.

I have been open about my depression and anxiety for years. I have been so lucky, I haven’t faced any major stigma. The people I speak to take these in their stride. They can relate to them on some level. Some have even responded by sharing their own experiences. But my eating disorder? That’s a different thing entirely…

Shocked, disbelieving faces, trying not to look me up and down, trying to work out how I could possibly have anorexia at my size.
Newsflash: Anorexia is not the only eating disorder. And let’s not even mention how ridiculous it is to have a weight criterion for anorexia diagnosis, implying it’s possible to be not anorexic enough and delaying treatment.

“Oh yeah, me too. I go home and eat chocolate after a tough day lol”
Silly me, I didn’t realise it was that simple. I could have saved myself years of therapy.
Of course I don’t say these things. I don’t want people to feel bad. Most don’t know that eating disorders aren’t just about food. Just look at the messages we are bombarded with! They are all very black and white. Weight loss is revered. Fat people are demonised. Yay! A celebrity lost weight. Boo! Obese people are lazy and a drain on society. Thin good, fat bad. But eating disorders are much greyer and more complex than that.

And yet one simple realisation has started to change everything for me: my weight actually has no relationship to my value as a human being.

What is really more important? Being thin or being kind? Smoothing cellulite or battling stigma? Having perfect skin or having compassion? For a long time I wasn’t sure. Now I am.

I have spent most of my life being ashamed about my relationship with food. I have spent even longer being ashamed of my size. I am determined not to feel that way any more. And most of the time I succeed. But it is really hard because of the world we live in right now. The Government is telling me to count calories and lose weight. I am surrounded by people trying to lose those extra pounds they gained during COVID.

So how can you help me and others struggling with eating disorders? Remember they’re not just about food, and sometimes not really about food at all. Ask us how we’re doing. Then ask a second time. Never praise weight loss. And finally, think about your own relationship with food and your weight. What unintended messages are you sending your friends, your family, your children? Good Mental Health is way more important than any number on the scales. Take it from someone who learned the hard way.

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